8 June 2022

Wagga Mayor Dallas Tout loves the job but he's not sure about the hat

| Chris Roe
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Dallas Tout

Wagga Mayor Dallas Tout took up the role in January 2022. Photo: Wagga City Council.

Wagga Wagga Mayor Dallas Tout reckons he has one of the best jobs in the world.

“I really enjoy and treasure every day I’m doing it,” he says.

It’s been six months since Cr Tout was elected the city’s 47th mayor after serving as deputy mayor since 2014.

He says it’s been a steep learning curve but he’s relishing the challenge.

“The involvement that you get across the whole community is amazing, whether that’s various events or meeting the different people from the community and seeing what community organisations are doing,” he says.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of work, a lot of reading policy documents and that sort of stuff, but I love it.”

When asked how he likes the fit of Wagga’s traditional Mayoral robes and bi-corn hat, Cr Tout cautiously suggests that a summer option might be a nice addition.

“I really would love to update the admiral’s hat,” he laughs.

“I’m not sure how long it’s been here and it’s like a portable sauna in summer!”

READ ALSO Can Wagga keep pace with the real estate boom?

Cr Tout took the reins just as the country began to shake off its COVID-19 hangover. In contrast to other centres, Wagga had emerged with a vibrant jobs market, billions of dollars of investment in infrastructure and booming house prices.

Housing stress is currently a barrier to the area reaching its potential. Cr Tout says on the one hand, it’s a good problem to have, but it also places the region at a critical juncture.

“A lot of it comes down to liveability,” he explains.

“A lot of the growth is happening because people do want to come here. But they can’t do that without all the social infrastructure and all the parks that make it beautiful, and we can’t do that until we’ve got the housing.”

With major projects like the Bomen Special Activation Precinct picking up momentum, the city’s population is expected to grow by up to 20 per cent in the coming decades.

“With what’s coming down the pipe as far as infrastructure, we need other levels of government to come on board. We need to take away the handbrakes,” he says.

“It’s about freeing up all that stuff from the beginning to allow us to have appropriate housing and property growth.

“Whether that’s social housing, community housing, standard housing or high-density housing. If we don’t have all that resolved, we’ll have all this development and no houses. It’s time to stop talking and just damn well do it.”

READ ALSO Overwhelming optimism for Wagga’s future tempered by labour and housing challenges

While the business boom and supporting social infrastructure are essential, Cr Tout says his priority is to ensure that all members of the community experience the benefits.

“We must never lose sight of the city’s livability and its character and we need to ensure that no one’s left behind,” he says.

“We need to make sure we cover all that across the whole range of council things and not just focus on the big bucks and the development to make sure everyone’s picked up.”

He is acutely aware of the challenges faced by many of the region’s residents who live below the poverty line.

“It’s social housing, community housing, the homeless, food insecurity and so on. We’ve got to make sure we never overlook a portion of the community, whether as a council or as individuals,” he says.

“I think there’s already a fairly solid base of volunteerism and I think that’ll continue to grow. I take any opportunity I get to talk about volunteerism and community involvement and it’s a matter of people like myself, other councillors and other leaders working with the community and always making sure you give back.”

READ ALSO Wagga’s ‘Carevan’ rolls out hundreds of meals with love every week

He says he would also like to see the community shifting the narrative around diversity to focus on inclusion.

“We are a diverse city, but I think there’s a difference between diversity and inclusion. If you haven’t got inclusion, then diversity means nothing,” he explains.

“We also have a solid relationship with First Nations people. We have cultural capability workshops and engage them in everything we do.”

Cr Tout says he hopes adaptability, foresight and inclusion form part of the legacy he leaves behind from his time as mayor.

“A city that’s able to take the growth that’s coming, building infrastructure and the support networks needed to do that, but which never loses sight of its liveability and its character,” he says.

“An inclusive, forward-looking, growing city that leaves no one behind.

“That’s a difficult cake to cook. But that’s my aim.”

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